The Columbus Dispatch: In defense of veto, Kasich contends Medicaid-enrollment freeze is illegal


The Columbus Dispatch: In defense of veto, Kasich contends Medicaid-enrollment freeze is illegal

Even with the clock a few minutes shy of midnight, the governor’s ceremonial Statehouse office was a busy place Friday night.

Cabinet members, Gov. John Kasich’s staff and others filled the so-called Lincoln Room to watch Ohio’s CEO sign the new two-year state budget — after he had killed parts with which he disagreed “in the public interest.”

Noticeable by their absence were House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. The legislative leaders traditionally attend budget-bill signings. But, with the hour late and facing long drives home, they already had hit the road.

Fellow Republican Kasich unleashed 47 line-item vetoes, the most-prominent sidelining a move by the legislature’s Republican majority to prevent new enrollment in the state’s expanded Medicaid health-insurance program effective July 1, 2018. And Kasich deployed a new defense of his veto, saying the provision was illegal.

Republican legislators fear that the Medicaid expansion, which covers more than 725,000 Ohioans who mostly hold low-wage jobs without health coverage, is financially unsustainable, given uncertainty over future funding as the U.S. Congress struggles to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The federal government now pays 95 percent of the tab, although even under Obamacare that share is to gradually drop.

The governor, as he has trumpeted repeatedly on the national stage, says the working poor, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill are owed a duty of care by both fellow Ohioans and their politicians.

Under the thwarted legislative plan, the working poor who become ineligible for Medicaid by obtaining better-paying jobs, only to later lose those often-seasonal jobs, could not return to Medicaid coverage unless they were receiving addiction or mental-health treatment. The administration estimated that 500,000 Ohioans could lose coverage by 2020.

Kasich’s veto message unveiled early Saturday said federal law requires a single state agency to be in charge of the Medicaid program. By moving to freeze new enrollment, the General Assembly improperly seized part of the state Medicaid director’s executive authority to administer the health-insurance program, the document said.

The claim raises the specter that the Kasich administration, or another supporter of the Medicaid expansion, could file a lawsuit challenging the enrollment freeze if the legislature votes to override the governor’s veto.

Rosenberger and Obhoff said in statements that they will talk with their GOP caucuses to gauge the desire to reject Kasich’s vetoes. The House could vote as soon as Thursday; the Senate the week after.

It takes a three-fifths vote — at least 60 members of the House and 20 of the Senate — to override a veto. Republicans control the House with 66 seats to the Democrats’ 33, and the Senate by 24-9. Both leaders could afford defections by some Republicans and still reinstate the Medicaid freeze.

The Ohio Medicaid Coalition, comprising more than 200 organizations, thanked Kasich for employing his veto pen.

“We salute Gov. Kasich for standing up for Ohio’s most vulnerable. … Allowing a freeze on the expansion population at a time when Ohio faces an opiate epidemic and tough economic times would have only placed additional burdens and barriers on poor working Ohioans and those struggling with chronic physical and mental-health diagnoses, as well as drug and alcohol addictions,” the group said in a statement.

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